EV Design 101: Six Features of an Emerging Identity

As electric propulsion conquers the mainstream market, its particular design requirements become more easily noticeable

Danillo Almeida
May 27 · 7 min read

Clique para ler em português
Haga clic para leer en español

Image for post
Image for post
First released in 1997, the Toyota Prius took hybrid propulsion to popular culture and helped EVs prosper as a whole

While companies claim they continuously look for unique design for their products, what they truly want is to create unique design identities. The whole process of researching consumer preferences, regional exclusivities and industrial trends and combining it to the company’s mission is frequently long and expensive so, once they find a design solution which brings the expected financial result, it’s obvious that they’ll want to extend it to as many products and regions as they possibly can.

Electric vehicles (EVs) took so long to prosper because they were trapped in a vicious circle: making them good enough for mass use required investing at a level which could only come from appropriate sales performance, but people would only buy them once they reached their standards. Nowadays, you can prove how well they’ve been doing in the market because you can already spot some design trends among models of different brands, body styles, segments and, especially, price ranges.

Image for post
Image for post
The modern-day Fiat 500 reaches the second generation combining evolutionary design with state-of-the-art electric propulsion

Let’s start addressing the elephant in the room: the part is vital for IC engines, so it became a pillar of car design. Now that we have models which don’t need it, makers were lost at first: some removed it altogether and made the car look weird, while others applied fake ones to make customer reception a tad more predictable but wasted a world of new possibilities. As of now, the all-new Fiat 500 depicted above is a good example of how makers are finally learning not to depend so much on front grilles.

Image for post
Image for post
With such a large silver panel, everyone will notice you’re not driving an ICE car

The design revolution started in the mid-2000s made Hyundai a powerhouse among generalist automakers. Since it’s using the boosted sales to fund some new projects, like the Genesis brand, the Koreans decided to apply an evolutionary design for a while. Naturally, that led to problems when EVs became popular: the Ioniq’s electric version debuted with such a hideous front fascia that Hyundai decided to facelift it with a sort of adaptation of its regular design. Now, the hybrid versions use a normal grille and the electric gets a closed version.

While obeying the laws of aerodynamics benefits every car, that becomes even more important for EVs because they shouldn’t rely on bigger motors to obtain desirable performance figures with subpar external design — that’d go against their entire raison d’être. As a result, most of them sport a good old Kammback simply to waste less energy on aerodynamic drag. If you’re not a fan, you can still pick the electric version of a traditional model, which was initially created for internal combustion engines.

Image for post
Image for post
The proportions might look strange, but many of the coupé’s features are there

The “fastback” design made the Mustang a success mostly due to style, but it’s also helped it reach better performance figures since 1967. Today, it was obvious that the Mach E variation would use such an iconic feature, especially to minimize rejection from press and drivers but, as the previous paragraph mentions, the truth is it also helps it fulfill its efficiency purpose: the official information says it provides minimum range of 338 km, which can increase to 482 km if you equip it with rear-wheel-drive and the Extended Range 98.8-kWh battery pack.

EVs will apply every possible resource to offer the same capabilities using less energy. While traditional wheels can do wonders to a car’s appearance, open spokes work like fans, wasting energy by deviating the air flow. Most EVs have wheel models with thicker or more numerous spokes than usual to reduce the open area. Many of the first ones were rather ugly, but that’s one more case of waiting for companies to finish the learning curve: it’s finally figuring out how to combine beauty and efficiency.

Image for post
Image for post
It isn’t intuitive to think of wheel design as important for fuel efficiency, huh?

Volkswagen has always enjoyed making its cars look sporty, even in non-performance trim levels. A direct consequence of that was the massive use of flashy wheels like those of the latest Touareg. Now that the maker is investing in the ID models, which will be a whole lineup of new EVs, it must choose between traditional style and fuel efficiency. One of those models, the upcoming ID.3, will offer options like the one of this picture, which uses chrome and black trim to disguise the larger empty area that comes directly from having reduced open area.

Design changes in ways that allow us to pinpoint some trends for each decade. Cars were flamboyant and expansive in the 1950s, downsized and modest in the 1980s, futuristic in the 1990s… Now, the ever-increasing efforts towards performance as a whole have put movement en vogue. Many EVs use elements with smooth, organic shapes which aren’t limited to one side of the body; they actually integrate all of them, making the whole design very complex but also light and nimble from every angle.

Image for post
Image for post
Renault facelifted the Zoe for 2019 with an evolution of its dynamic design

Renault’s latest design language is focused on sportiness through components with angular shapes on bodies which don’t use many creases. While traditional names such as the Clio and the Mégane use an aggressive interpretation, the Zoe features fluidic lines and rather small components, which makes its sheetmetal areas more extensive and the whole car look larger, solid. This contrast makes it delicate but poised; elegant in its own way. It’s a nice departure from the typical EV design made of angular shapes which simply attempt to stand out at all costs.

In today’s world, of course it’s not enough to merely do something; we need to show it. EVs have always been flashy, but so far in ways which made them just too weird. Only recently have companies learned how to make them desirable for more than their mileage and how to show it: several models could easily replace their ICE counterparts without making the owner feel they’re missing out on something. That includes working on their advertisement, color palette and even their use of logotypes.

Image for post
Image for post
The DS division is standing out as a futuristic take on the luxury segment

Generalist makers often resort to quirky design parts and an array of cool colors to make them look like as if created in a sci-fi movie. The DS division, in turn, entices luxury buyers with a much more discreet and elegant variation of that: the models are depicted in warm colors and surrounded by modern graphic design in order to seem perfect for modern-day luxury customers. Attention to detail is another key item here, since the division is inspired in the iconic model sold by Citroën in the 1950s. DS is a significant step towards normalizing EVs.

Digital gauges were all the rage in the 1980s, especially with flashy colors like videogame interfaces. Now, we’re living the age of large, ultra-high-definition screens that work like a tablet and give easy access to a surprising quantity of functions — in general, EV dashboards have much fewer physical buttons and knobs than usual because that setting makes the whole room more futuristic and lighter, two characteristics they cherish so much. This blog has discussed the topic on this story.

Image for post
Image for post
The brand new Mercedes-Benz EQC was born with the nem MBUX system

Mercedes-Benz has been a solid reference among luxury cars for a long time, but it spent most of it building the image of classic, formal luxury. In nowadays, the German automaker is making an effort to be modern and trendy in order to attract the new wave of upscale customers. One result of this new strategy is replacing physical commands with the all-new MBUX: driving, information and entertainment functions all accessible from two large, fully-integrated screens. As the photo shows, the remaining knobs and buttons are only the necessary.

Image for post
Image for post
The all-new Peugeot 208 uses fully electric propulsion on the performance-oriented GT version

Further evolution on what’s already being done. Establishing a strong design identity gives people a sense of stability; EVs are no longer experiments which could be removed at any moment and leave their owners with a nightmare to service and resell. Now, we’re moving towards a positive circle: the industry is making them better as a whole, so customers are feeling more confident to try buying them at least once.

In a couple of years, the first units of this new generation of EVs will reach the used car market, so the industry will have to pay attention to its maintenance plans in order not to waste the effort it’s making today. Once the buyer notices that owning an EV is as easy, if not as cheap, as an ICE vehicle, the market will have gone through the full circle. That’s the moment when people will finally fully accept these cars with the intensity they need to be profitable and fulfill their environment-friendly goals.

Car Design Chronicles

Fashion goes round in (four) circles.

Sign up for Collections

By Car Design Chronicles

Curated selections of Chronicles based on a common topic Take a look

By signing up, you will create a Medium account if you don’t already have one. Review our Privacy Policy for more information about our privacy practices.

Check your inbox
Medium sent you an email at to complete your subscription.

Danillo Almeida

Written by

Writer and future engineer striving to work with car design. If you like cars but not the stereotypes that surround them, give my articles a try.

Car Design Chronicles

Automotive styling broken down into short and simple posts, each one based on a recent event of the industry

Danillo Almeida

Written by

Writer and future engineer striving to work with car design. If you like cars but not the stereotypes that surround them, give my articles a try.

Car Design Chronicles

Automotive styling broken down into short and simple posts, each one based on a recent event of the industry

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store